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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Preparing for Worship: Psalm 24:3-6

Going to Worship

Psalm 24 is a well known psalm and has been used for years in worship. Handel even included part of it in Messiah [Lift up your heads]. Sometimes familiarity with something allows us to miss the obvious. I would encourage everyone to complete a thorough study of the entire psalm, but for our purposes I would like to focus on at least the middle section, verses 3-6.

Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Selah.

Some scholars believe that this psalm might have been used as part of the celebration when David brought the ark of God to Jerusalem [2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 15:16-23]. [D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, The New Bible Commentary, Revised. W.B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, 1970, p.466] As you will remember, David first tried to bring the ark back by placing it on an oxcart with Uzzah and Ahio assisting. When they had reached the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled and Uzzah attempted to steady the ark from falling. It was at that point God struck him dead. [I Chronicles 13] The ark remains at the house of Obed Edom for three months when David makes another attempt, however, this time following the biblical mandates of carrying the ark on poles carried by Levites.

Key to the understanding of the passage is knowing the background of the first attempt. The first time, David had gathered 30,000 of the finest soldiers, there was a festive air of praise to God everywhere, for the ark that had been ignored by Saul was now central to the new king. But worship and praise that does not follow what God commands will not be blessed, and David’s failure to follow God’s instructions were partly responsible for the death of Uzzah. [See note at the end.] Preparation for worship, for meeting God took on a deeper, more serious tone for David. So, as David begins this new journey to bring the ark of God to Jerusalem part of the praise song touches on preparation: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The assumption is to ascend Mount Zion to worship Jehovah; the question is “who,” or “what preparations must be made?”

The first thing David mentions are “clean hands,” that is, not just someone who uses soap and water to wash his or her hands, but here, “clean hands” can refer to right actions. He continues with “pure heart,” that is, one after God’s nature and character, one with pure and right motives. Thirdly, “one that does not lift his soul to an idol” would refer to precisely that, bowing down to idols, whether ones made with human hands or ones we have created in our hearts and minds. Anything that would come between our total surrender to His Lordship can be considered an idol, and such things as positions, powers, acclaim, even in the “religious” world can easily become an idol as we take our focus from God and place something else in its place. Idols can also be things of our own creation or things to which we assign an attribute of God. Worshiping our own creation is a type of self worship. We fail to see ourselves as God sees us, and fail to see Him as He truly is. David concludes by mentioning “not swearing by what is false.” Lying is one of the things God hates. [Proverbs 6:16-19] Most of us would shutter to think that we would boldly lie to God, but, every time we sing or say things we really don't mean or practice, like a song of full surrender, yet fail to fully surrender, we are lying.

David closes the passage with a promise of blessing: “He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior and a postscript of sorts describing what sort of person is one who is able to ascend to worship, that is one who seeks God’s face. Those that seek God are those who are willing to prepare to do so. Worship is not a divine accident, but God’s gracious initiative from which we respond. “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” [2 Chronicles 16:9] God is continually seeking those who with clean hands and pure hearts, free from any other focus in truth and transparency seek Him. Part of preparation for worship is this self check-up: Right actions, right motives, no other thing or person between ourselves and God in complete honesty and transparency, seeking Him.

It is possible that this psalm was used as a preparation by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for worship. What better way to remind themselves of what God is seeking than to rehearse them in your heart through song? Are we coming to Him with actions that do not glorify God? Are our motives pure, or are we approaching God just so we can get what we want? Do we want Him more than any other thing or person? Are we honest and transparent before Him? Are we prepared to worship?

An Additional note about the I Chronicles 13 passage:
Another note here might include Uzzah and Ahio’s own attitudes. The ark had been in the possession of their household since its recovery from the Philistines [1 Samuel 6] and remained their for at least 20 years of the life of Samuel the prophet, the 40 years of Saul’s reign and the first 7 years of David’s kingship. They had grown up with the ark around them all the time and most likely, it had become commonplace. They began to take it for granted. It lost its specialness. So much so that Uzzah felt no hesitation in reaching out to steady it. How important for those of us who virtually live in the things of God, not to begin to take them for granted, lest we be guilty of the same sin.

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